• Slovakia!

    Slovakia: Tatra Mountains. Go Now!

    Slovakia
    The Tatra Mountains (pictured) form the backdrop of this rural country, whose culture is rooted in this beautiful landscape. Go Now!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Serbia!

    Serbia: Houses in the mountains. Go Now!

    Serbia
    Serbia is a historic power now looking internally to re-discovery their identity and future. Explore Serbia!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

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    Finland: Finnish Sauna. Go Now!

    Finland
    Unlike its neighbors, the Finns are unique ethnically & linguistically, but are wholly European in many other ways. Begin Your Journey!

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Mostar, Bosnia

Sarajevo

March 13, 2005
A Stroll Around the City

The bus ride along the light green Neretva River was beautiful. The country is very mountainous and this explains the isolated groups that co-existed for hundreds of years until communication improved and wars began. We stopped at a grill for about a half hour to eat lunch. For much of the trip I focused on the country's litter, which contrasted the modern bus; it's easy to tell there's clearly a tourist route from Dubrovnik and Split up to Sarajevo and back.

After arriving in Sarajevo, it becomes apparent that this city, on the world stage for the 1984 Olympics, has been forgotten and neglected. The city is great in so many ways, and you can tell it was at one time just a phenomenal city, but today it is struggling to stay afloat after the Balkan Wars... and it's only sometimes succeeding. The downtown area consists of streets that are red marble, curvy, and uneven. There are mosques everywhere and the city is surrounded by the mountains. The atmosphere is unlike the rest of Europe, it has an aura of the east, of Turkey and the Muslim influence. The difference is that the people are of Slavic descent and in many ways act and behave like much of Europe. The atmosphere is strange and oddly diverse, with Mosques, Churches, and even Synagogues available every couple blocks. In many ways, this city truly is a microcosm of Europe.

The proverbial "other hand" is much sadder and devastating. The city was under siege by the Serbs during the war, who destroyed much of it. Only the downtown is still in any sort of place to give it the atmosphere it probably once had and even much of that was rebuilt.

The little Bascarsija area has a Catholic church, Orthodox church, synagogue, and Mosque all within about two blocks of each other. It's clear though that the city is primarily Muslim with the number of mosques, souvenirs and atmosphere along with the food.

After spending time in the downtown area, I walked up to the old Olympic stadium area and saw the huge cemetery that covers way too much area. The area feels hollow; the cemetery exemplifies the destruction and death of the war on Sarajevo.

Mostar

March 13, 2005
A Day With the Locals in a War Torn Town

The ride from Sarajevo was good; I got into Mostar late last night, but I had a place to stay and went there immediately. The people here were extremely welcoming and when I asked for the location of a good restaurant they made me dinner; when I asked what there's to see in the town, they gave me a tour.

Dinner was good, truly Turkish, which I was told means that it's also truly Bosniak. We (the family I stayed with ate with me) had seasoned rice, a role with rice and meat in it, cabbage salad, and baklava for dessert. The food was really good outside the cabbage salad and I practically inhaled it all.

After dinner, I headed out into the town with the young man who lived and worked there, unfortunately I forgot, and never could correctly pronounce his name. He showed me the city; all the mosques were lit up, reflecting off the green river, as people sat outside drinking their coffee and tea. The people seemed at peace in this perfect little town with cobbled-stoned streets and stone roofed buildings. We walked through old town, across Stari Most, Crooked Bridge (both rebuilt since the war) then up the other side of the river until we hit the old Tito building then returned to the house.

Along our walk he told me all about the war; he fled to Skopje, whereas Omar (whose house I'm staying at) fled to Turkey. He talked of the Serb attack, then the much longer and brutal Croat attack on the city. The Croats destroyed the bridges and many mosques. The city still lies in ruins and much of it is war-torn. The city is slowly being re-built, but much of the international funding has disappeared on its way due to the extensive corruption present in the city.

He also talked of the tension even today between the Croats and Bosniaks (I was told a "Bosnian" is anyone who lives in Bosnia, referring to the nationality, whereas "Bosniak" specifically refers to a Muslim Bosnian, which the locals claim is a completely separate ethnicity). The old front line from the war continues to define where the Bosniaks and the Croats can and can't go. During the days they can cross, but after about 8:00 at night if anyone crosses that line they'll get beat up pretty bad. My new Bosniak friend said you can tell who's Bosniak and who's Croatian, but I could only tell on a few individuals, with real distinct features. He said it's a matter of time before another war breaks out, unless everyone leaves first, but they can't get out easily and they need visas now even to visit some other former Yugoslav countries.

On the way back to our house there was a call to prayer, but no one seemed to even notice. He said that no one is really religious and the mosques look nice, but the city only needs one since, although people believe in Islam, they rarely go to the mosque.

We talked of Tito and Milosevic. The former was great and treated everyone well; he said that Tito made the people work together and that it wasn't forced, but just was, whereas Milosevic was terrible. He said the Bosniaks still look favorably on Tito and have buildings and statues for him, but Milosevic is in The Hague and if he ever returns the people will kill him immediately.

As my new friend and local guide said, "this is one city, but two countries," a good explanation of Mostar and "this isn't even a country, it's just a mess" would be a good description of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

After the tour of the city, we went out to a cafe. Everyone goes out at about 8 or 9:00 and is in by 11:30, rarely does anyone stay out past midnight. Plus, being in the Muslim half of the city, there aren't bars, but only cafes that serve coffee, tea, and alcohol. In the cafe there were people drinking their tea next to others drinking alcohol. The music seemed very Turkish, but he said it's Bosniak. He said everything that's Bosniak is also Turkish, and that they're the same thing.

He also talked about the local languages being identical, but having three different names for it. Whereas most English speakers call it Serbo-Croatian, the Croats call it Croatian, the Serbs call it Serbian, and the Bosniaks call it Bosniak or Bosnian.

He also talked about his life; he was born in the north of Bosnia, but his parents left him and he was sent to an orphanage in Mostar. At 13 the war in Mostar broke out and the whole orphanage went to Skopje for five years at which point they returned here. He talked of his lack of friends and how everyone does drugs. He didn't consider marijuana a drug, but said that he used to smoke it every day, but has since stopped.

Omar is like his father and lets him live and eat in his house, Omar pays for his cigarettes and in return he works the house. Personally, I think the two of them need each other and they seem to get along well and understand each other.

Omar I know very little about, he went to Turkey during the war and said that the house has been his family's for generations; he's only now finishing the repairs from the war. I don't know where his wife is, but I met his daughter, who now lives in Zagreb. He's a retired professor and speaks French and German fluently, although his English is weak.

March 14, 2005

Today I woke up early and saw Mostar during the day; I also jumped over to the Catholic part of the city. Not much to say though, I saw the same stuff I saw yesterday, plus the other side, then took off to the train station, where I met a Japanese guy. His bus was about 15 minutes late, mine was an hour late, which seems typical here.

On the way out of town we passed mine fields and old valleys filled with junk cars along with a huge cemetery on the hill in the Catholic part of the city, yet another remnant of the war... it's tough to go far without seeing one.

Continue the above trip to: Croatia

Learn more about Bosnia & HerzegovinaReturn to Justin's Travel Blog